Illawarra Newsroom

Port Kembla - Women SLS pioneers honoured

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Today, July 1 marks 40 years since a group of eight women from Port Kembla were among the first females in Australia to achieve their Bronze Medallions.

Prior to July 1980, women’s roles in Surf Life Saving Clubs were restricted to support and back-office functions. With the exception of a number of women who were allowed to patrol beaches as surf lifesavers during World War II, women were prevented from participating in active patrol duties on the beach.

The prevailing attitudes of many people at the time were that women weren’t physically capable of carrying out an aquatic rescue in the surf. However, Surf Life Saving Australia’s National Council passed a motion in early 1980 that recommended from 1 July that year, surf clubs across Australia allow women to become active patrolling members, after successfully obtaining their Bronze Medallions. 

Nella Keenan, from Port Kembla, was one of the first women to achieve her Bronze Medallion in 1980 - just six days after the new National Council rules took effect. She was part of a group of eight women from the Illawarra region who flew up to Coffs Harbour, where the water was warmer, to be assessed. She passed, and 40 years later, Nella is still an active surf lifesaver. 

Six of Australia’s first female surf lifesavers gathered at Port Kembla Surf Life Saving Club on Tuesday June 30 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of women first becoming surf lifesavers in Australia. More info on Women in Surf Lifesaving can be accessed right here.

Image Credit: supplied